Mar 2, 2020

Everyone Counts in the 2020 Census

What is a census and why is it important?

Once a decade, America comes together to count every resident in the United States. The decennial census was first taken in 1790 and this April will be our 24th Census Count.

In order to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census, Complete Count Commissions have been organized by state and local governments and community leaders and organizations.  Virginia is no exception. As a member of the Virginia Complete Count Commission, I believe it is critical for every Virginian to be counted when the Census takes place next year.

There are a number of reasons why the Census is important.  First and foremost, it is the law, as required by the Constitution.   Census data are widely used and will determine representation in Congress for the next decade.  It also makes financial sense: it is estimated that $600 billion to $800 billion in federal funding is distributed based on Census Bureau data.

Most importantly, having an accurate count provides critical information for local decision-makers.  Schools use the data when making plans for classroom sizes, construction needs, and addressing achievement and opportunity gaps.  Localities depend on census data when considering infrastructure projects and community services and transportation needs. Hospitals and law enforcement and businesses use census information to make staffing decisions and identify needs such as the number of interpreters they should hire to serve their local non-English speaking populations.  Indeed, a significant number of institutions rely on the census and have an interest in our count being accurate.

Unfortunately, certain populations have been historically and that risk remains in 2020.  In particular, some U.S. residents fear that information collected will not remain confidential.  However, all responses are confidential and protected under the law. Information will not be shared with immigration enforcement agencies, such as ICE, the FBI, or police, nor can collected information be used to determine government benefits.  Census data is confidential for 72 years and any wrongful disclosure is subject to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000. Thousands of local community members have been hired to conduct the Census count and should provide further assurance that your trusted neighbors are collecting data.

In the past, the United States Census Bureau has experienced low survey response rates from many communities across the Commonwealth. The Virginia Complete Count Commission was created to improve the participation and representation of all Virginians. The Commission represents the many geographic regions and diverse communities in the Commonwealth, including our colleges and military installations. We are particularly attuned to the count of communities and citizens that have historically been undercounted, including children under 4 years of age, minorities, immigrants, and people experiencing homeless. The Commission will operate as a central conduit of information and facilitate the sharing of ideas and community resources regarding the 2020 Census. These efforts will improve collaboration between the Commonwealth and the U.S. Census Bureau and encourage all stakeholders to actively prepare for the 2020 Census.  More information about the Virginia Complete Count Commission can be found at

The success of the Census requires community engagement at every level. We invite the public to unite with our efforts through involvement with your civic, neighborhood, religious, and business associations.  Share the importance and value of a complete count via your websites and social media platforms. Many organizations, locally and nationally, will be adding their voice to this critical effort over the next few months. For example, the National Urban League will be advocating participation under the hashtags #MakeBlackCount2020 and #WeVoteWeCount.

A full count helps all of us. In 2016, Virginia received over $17 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data from the 2010 Census.  Medicaid, student loans, Pell grants, national school lunch, Head Start, WIC, school breakfast, and adoption assistance are some of the social programs that will directly benefit. Business and community development are supported from a variety of programs including New Market Tax Credits, Community Block grants and HubZone programs. Communities that have higher participation rates receive more of a share of federal funding to meet their specific needs.  Equally important, for every person not counted in the 2020 Census, your community can lose up to $2,000 in federal funding per year for 10 years. So, if you are not counted, your community loses $10,000 of funding!

The Urban League of Hampton Roads works every day to make sure that every Virginian counts.  In the 2020 Census, it will take all of us working together to make sure that every resident of Virginia is counted.  When that happens, we all benefit.

The call is clear.  Join us and help ensure everyone is counted.


Gilbert T. Bland is President & CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads and a member of the Virginia Complete Count Commission.

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